Young and Old, Old and New

I keep thinking about surnames, even though I’ve written about them quite a few times now. I think I find them so interesting because in the past, when they were granted to people, there was a degree of conscious thought behind them, and they were quite literal and descriptive, compared to first names. Recently, I’ve been pondering the surnames Young and Oldman. Continue reading

Barbara L’Italien

I’d never heard of Barbara L’Italien, an American politician with the Democratic party, before today. She was accidentally invited onto a Fox “News” programme instead of a Democratic supporter of ICE, the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. With L’Italien being a staunch critic of ICE, the interview didn’t exactly go as the hosts had planned: Continue reading

Colourful Surnames

Black, White, Grey, Green, Brown, Gold/Golden. Niall, I hear you ask, why have you capitalised all those colours!? Surely you’re not going to tell us that there’s some obscure English rule that says that you have to use capital letters with colours, and we’ve all been doing it wrong all this time? God I’d love to, but no, those words are capitalised because, yes, they’re colours, but in this case I’m using them as surnames.

I’ve written before about surnames, and what they mean. Most of them have fairly mundane origins, describing people’s jobs or their birthplaces. This is because in the grand scheme of things, surnames are fairly new. Many of the earliest English surnames were attached to people to differentiate them from other people in the village with the same first name (e.g. that’s John Miller the miller, not John Taylor the tailor). If you think about a lot of common English surnames, it’s probably not too hard to imagine where they came from. But why is it that colours are so common as surnames?

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What’s Your Name?

What’s your name?

Not a particularly difficult question, generally speaking. In English, when we say name, we usually mean a person’s given, or first, name. Things can be a little more confusing when you have to switch to dealing with French though. I’m currently living in Belgium, and routinely get momentarily confused by forms which ask first for nom, and then prénom. My instinct is to write my first name in the space for nom, until I remember that in French, nom means surname, and prénom means first name. Continue reading